Those Near and Far Realms--A Single-Take Review of Star Realms Frontiers

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A long time ago, Donald X. Vaccarino designed a little game called Dominion, creating what we gamers call deck-building, a new genre that has had many, many additions since then. One of the games to use the new mechanism was Star Realms. Star Realms burst onto the scene as an inexpensive 2-player deck builder that came in a small box for just $15. Since then it has grown. Oh has it grown. Lots of expansion packs, variants, and even a mobile app have made it one of the most successful deck-building franchises to date. And for a good reason: it's FANTASTIC! So when Rob Dougherty (co-designer and founder of White Wizard Games) handed me a pre-release copy of Star Realms Frontiers, the latest and greatest in the lineup, let's just say I was a teensy bit excited! Star Realms Frontiers is a standalone release featuring 80 new trade row cards, and 8 over-sized Mission/Boss cards for solo and co-op play! So, does Star Realms Frontiers kick it into Hyperdrive? Or should it be chucked out the airlock? Let's find out!


The Components

You guessed it. CARDS!!!

Like I just said there are 80 new trade row cards (20 in each of the 4 factions) and 8 oversized Mission/Boss cards for the co-op play. On top of all of that, you have everything you need to make this a standalone copy of the game: authority counters, starting decks, and enough explorers for 4 players to play a regular game of Star Realms right out of the box.


The Setup

I'm handling this review as if you know how to play the base/original version of the game. If you don't, let me sum it up. Draw five cards from your deck, use money to buy cards, use attack strength to attack another player, and you can sometimes "heal" your "authority" (hit points) as well. Cards can give other cards more abilities if you play that same faction at the same time. Ok. That's about it!

To set up a solo or co-op mission it's very much the same as the base game. You'll setup the trade row and explorer cards as normal, and everyone gets a starting deck. From there it all depends on which Boss you're playing against. They all have setup instructions on the back and a little more detail in the rulebook too. Let's jump into the gameplay and I'll tell you about one of my run throughs. Cool?


The Gameplay


So, myself and AJ (co-host of Boardgames Daily) played Pirates of the Dark Star, and the setup was pretty easy. Really we just had to give it enough hit points and put the card in front of us. You can choose to play at different levels of difficulty from Beginner to Expert, which goes from the players taking 3 turns before the Boss does, to the Boss taking the first turn. We played Veteran and only got one turn first.

This particular Boss didn't have its own deck, but on each turn it would scrap a card for each player from the trade row, and then draw a new card to take add to the row. The faction of the drawn card would determine what happened to us. (For example, the yellow faction means the Boss attacks for 2x the the cost of the drawn card and the player attacked would discard 2 cards.).Another cool function of this scenario was that the players played a single turn together, pooling our available attack and money. 

Other than that the game played the same as Star Realms. We worked on building our decks strong enough to defeat the Boss while trying to stay alive.

The Verdict

So first of all, I've gone on record as saying MANY times that Star Realms is the second best all time deck builder, right up there with Dominion. (Although if you want to talk theme, Star Realms mops the floor with Dominion there.) So in order for me to not like Star Realms Frontier, White Wizard would have to do something so terrible, so malicious, so offensive that it would shake the game itself to the core. Let me tell you, they have done no such thing!

Skeptics may say, what's the big deal, do I really need to go get more Star Realms Cards? For me, the answer is: YES! Let's just leave out the solo/co-op play for a second here, Star Realms Frontier is worth picking up for the sheer fact that it's a standalone 4-player title in the Star Realms franchise. The new cards are great, they each hold true to what you expect each faction to focus on (Green = Heavy hitters, Red = Scrapping cards, etc.). But these aren't just re-skinned cards--they're new, they have new abilities, entirely. AND there are now double ally abilities that pack an even better punch, but you have to have 2 other allies on the table to activate them! 

I'm still working my way through the Bosses but they are all unique and challenging and bring a nice co-op experience into Star Realms that I know my kids are going to enjoy (they LOVE co-op games!).

And of course you can expect more of the great artwork and graphic design featured in the previous Star Realms releases--it's truly fantastic!!

The Final Verdict

Yet another success for White Wizard Games, Star Realms Frontiers is another in a long line of great Star Realms releases. From the co-op/solo mode, to the entirely new deck of trade cards, to the very slight but genius gameplay wrinkles, Star Realms Frontiers is a great addition to the Star Realms franchise. It's everything you want from Star Realms from top to bottom! I highly recommend it!

Listen to Jeremiah's Drive-By Review on the latest episode of That's How I Roll!

Thanks so much for reading! Have you played Star Realms Frontiers?? We'd love to hear your thoughts on them! Just comment below or email us by clicking the contact button up top!

We'd like to thank White Wizard Games for providing a review copy of Star Realms to Jeremiah; this has in no way influenced his opinion.